Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Rangers battle to finally beat Penguins

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins will head to Madison Square Garden for a match against the New York Rangers at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The Pittsburgh Penguins streak might be over, but there’s no doubt that they’re still a dangerous team and that the Rangers desperately need this victory.

The Rangers are two points behind the seventh and eighth place New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, although the Rangers have played in less games than each of those clubs. The Rangers managed to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, but suffered back-to-back shutout losses prior to that.

To make matters worse for the Rangers, this is one of the few home games remaining in their schedule. Including tonight’s contest, eight of their final 13 games will be played on the road, where they’re 6-9-1 so far this campaign.

There are plenty of areas where the Rangers have lagged behind the Penguins this season, but perhaps the biggest gap has just been simply their respective offenses. On paper the Rangers shouldn’t have that big an issue offensively given the presence of Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, and Brad Richards. In practice though, the Rangers rank dead last in the NHL in goals per game while Pittsburgh leads the pack.

Even without Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are still dangerous offensively with the likes of Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, and their latest addition, Jarome Iginla.

The Rangers will likely counter with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has been dominant this season — except when Pittsburgh is involved. Against the Penguins, Lundqvist has an ugly 4.02 GAA and .865 save percentage in three defeats this season.

Perhaps Ryane Clowe, who the Rangers acquired on Tuesday will be the difference. He should make his Rangers debut tonight, according to the Bergen Record.

Clowe, like the team he joined, has struggled to find the back of the net this season, but he does have five assists in his last eight games. The change of scenery might also be what he needs to end his 34-game (including playoffs) goal-scoring drought.

When the trade deadline passes this afternoon, no major NHL events will stand between us and the end of the regular season. It will be the final push and while the Penguins don’t have a ton left to fight for before the start of the postseason, the Rangers certainly have a ton on the line.

Probable goaltenders: NYR – Lundqvist (15-13-2, 2.19 GAA, .922 SV%) | PIT – Marc-Andre Fleury (18-5-0, 2.18 GAA, .920 SV%)

Top scorers: NYR – Nash (13-17-30, 31 GP) | PIT – Crosby (15-41-56, 36 GP)

Notable Injuries:
New York – Defensemen: Marc Staal (eye), Michael Sauer (concussion)
Pittsburgh – Forwards: Crosby (jaw) Defensemen: Paul Martin (wrist), Kris Letang (toe)

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.